Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Columbia Icefields

JG and I have done a lot of driving around over the years, have followed a lot of the roads identified in a National Geographic handbook of scenic drives, have explored byways and rutted trails to no where and have, for the most part, been awed and delighted by the scenery encountered. But I think our favourite road is the one between Banff and the Columbia Icefields. It has been improved over the years and now contains only one section where I want to grope for the anti-panic pills in my purse (see previous post). In any kind of weather, it is a drive well worth doing.

JG is also fascinated by the glaciers of the Columbia ice fields and has made three trips over the years to see them. ( I have made two.) While driving out onto the glacier itself is a bit of a mixed adventure (mega steep approach!), it is also pretty spectacular. And the obligatory photographs give you a marvellous reference about what has changed over fifty years.

The first trip JG took was in the summer of 1962. Here he is in a typical young adult pose and here is what he rode onto the glacier inside. Although I have not done this myself, I am assured by several sources that it was one of the noisiest vehicles you could imagine.

Here is what the hanging glacier on the left(east) side of the Columbia Ice field looked like in the summer of '62.

In September of 1999 we did the trip again. We rode in onto the glacier in dignity in a big, high-wheeled bus, a bus only partly filled with mostly, as I recall, North American tourists. It was easy to get a good photo of the main glacier and the hanging east side glacier. There was a lot less of it.

Hanging glacier

Main glacier

Our third trip was last month, September of 2012, just a little over 50 years since JG's first trip. The machine he rode in on the first trip is now painted up and parked in the interpretation centre as an interesting antique. You have to drive a good bit farther to reach the main ice field and we were driven in a series of two huge buses, one of a string of buses taking tourists out, most crammed with tourists from Japan, China and Korea interspersed with a few North Americans.

When we reached the glacier it was swarmed by tourists collecting melt water and having lots of photos taken with a Canadian flag. I did manage, however to get a photo of the east hanging glacier, shrunken even further.
Hanging glacier.

Main glacier

Here is the antique snow machine. Notice, I am not making any other comments on antiquity.

We stayed overnight at the hotel that forms the third floor of the interpretation centre. I highly recommend doing this as you have an exceptional view of the main glacier in varied lighting conditions. This photo was taken from the patio at dawn - long exposure, no tripod, but not too much shake. The glacier shown is the west one - Icedome.

It's very much a case of good-bye glacier. Of course, photographer and subject are a bit eroded too.

One more photo, this one from '99.


  1. We did the parkway and the glacier in 2000. Fantastic experience.

  2. Wow. Amazing photos and story. (But I find it disturbing that the glaciers are so noticeably shrinking...)

  3. So interesting!

    The effects of time are rarely so easily determined. Of we humans, I feel s entimental; for Mother Earth, I am troubled.

  4. interesting to compare the shots from different years. ~kaye

  5. How exciting to go so close to a moving glacier.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May